There is no escaping the reports, discussions, questions about “pink slime”— otherwise known as lean, finely textured beef (LFTB). Open up a newspaper, turn on the radio, chat with folks in the grocery store and the topic is front and center. There’s an endless flood of television coverage from Nightline to cable news to Comedy Central’s The Daily Show and Colbert Report.
When I heard the term “pink slime” my first reaction was— “What the heck is that?” Turns out it is essentially lean beef that’s caught up in fat trim. For example, from a 700-pound beef carcass you’ll get about 140 lbs. of trimmed fat, within that there is still 15 to 20 lbs. of lean beef that can’t easily be hand-trimmed out. So food scientists have figured out that you can melt the trimmings and centrifuge out the lean beef. “LFTB is more like baby food,” says Domenick Castaldo, biology instructor at Sauk Valley Community College, Dixon, Ill. “Paste more accurately describes LFTB than does ‘slime’.” (He offers significantly more details about LFTB, which you can find here.)
My second reaction to “pink slime” was—“Ouch; that label is going to leave a mark.” And it has.
Admittedly, I also thought—“Thank heaven it doesn’t involve pork”-- and it doesn’t, at least not directly.
Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t wish this plight on any food or ag sector. My heart goes out to the beef folks. The U.S. pork industry knows all too well what it’s like to have a damaging and inaccurate label associated with its product. To be clear, I almost never refer to the 2009 H1N1 influenza virus as “swine flu”, so if I do use that reference you know I mean business. I have to say, I’m surprised to see food and agriculture outlets referring to “pink slime.” We would all do well to stop using that reference, and call it LFTB instead.
In the case of H1N1 and LFTB the media chose the more headline-grabbing name; in each case science offered a more thorough view of reality; in each case, so far with LFTB, the marketplace drove the reaction. In the H1N1 case, while the fervor was quite quickly squelched in the domestic market, U.S. pork paid the price in the export market as countries closed their borders, some for an extended time. Also, with influenza being a respiratory virus, there’s no connection to meat, so that helped.